What goes around, comes around
Throughout the early to mid-aughts, the national media jumped all over the Charlotte story. Formerly sleepy Southern town, driven to national prominence by the dual banking powers of Bank of America and Wachovia (and their predecessors). The story had everything: outsize personalities (Hugh McColl), country-boy-sticks-it-to-the-city-slickers, New South striving, plus that added air of exoticism that national (read: New York) media always attaches to the South.
But with the banking, ahem, situation, that story has changed. First the Washington Post (in a story by an Observer alum, no less) and now, of all papers, Toronto’s The Globe and Mail (the New York Times of Canada) have written essentially the same story: banking boomtown goes bust.
Of course, we can quibble with the details: Charlotte isn’t really busted, the job loss here hasn’t been as dramatic as feared, Bank of America actually played a key role in saving the financial system (by buying Countrywide and Merrill Lynch), but the story is simply to easy too pass up.
I’m an editor; I know.
The dirty secret of editing a magazine or a newspaper is that too often, the editor decides what the story is before the actual reporting is done (never at this magazine, of course). Sometimes, the reporter decides. To me, that was clearly the case with the Washington Post story. It probably wasn’t as thinly reported as it read, but I have little doubt that either reporter Binyamin Appelbaum decided what the story was in advance, or, more likely, his editor said, "Yo, Applebaum! You used to work in Charlotte, right? Go write me a story about how that little Southern upstart got what was coming to it." Or something like that.
Don’t worry. The story will change. In a couple years, editors won’t be able to resist the story of the banking boomtown that went bust and then made a remarkable comeback. But for now, we might want to get used to these kinds of stories. And remember that any press is good press–read the comments of the G&M story. With each article, each comment, Charlotte becomes less anonymous. All great cities experience setbacks. This is ours, and unfortunately it makes for a great story.
Link to G&M story, "Charlotte: The town that Bank of America took down" (Yes, of course it’s a ridiculous headline. But it’s irresistible for a Canadian copyeditor)